by Josh Nason
A newspaper must have an online presence to even be considered relevant. There has never been a more exciting time to be involved with media than now. There are so many opportunities to do something with all of the various methods of passing along information to the masses. Considering our society is so content-driven, newspapers have a distinct advantage over some of its competitors in that they’re always producing something new on a daily basis.
So why aren’t they using that advantage?
Money is a huge reason as newspaper publishers continue to struggle with how to translate the cash earned from someone plunking down two quarters for a physical paper to someone plunking down their butt and logging onto the online version. I’m not sure why this is such a confounding proposition, but very few newspaper outlets see the big picture. TV and radio have set the bar in terms of giving away free information as you can get the latest information from CNN.com or MSNBC.com within seconds of it happening, all for free. Newspapers have the same capability with a website and email list, yet many do it so poorly. Seemingly, there’s no effective online strategy and it doesn’t make any sense.
Advertising buttons are one way that Big Ink is trying to make some of this cash back they feel they’re losing by “giving away” news. In return, they get a cluttered site that somewhat resembles the outfield walls of a minor-league baseball park. While there is a price to be paid for getting information from trusted sources like your local paper, is it worth being bombarded to that extent? It’s symbolic of an industry struggling to grasp with itself.
In doing an informal survey last week on several major papers, I was dismayed that most have no email signup and thus, no email marketing plan. Absolutely criminal! Every day, newspapers have fresh content that is geared toward specific audiences (business, sports, entertainment), so why wouldn’t they want to tell those specific audiences about the latest info, get those click-throughs and leverage that with their advertisers? This industry was made for metrics that email marketing can provide. It’s a publisher’s dream: you can actually tell what people are reading and how long they remain on a story! Try getting those statistics with your archaic newsprint.
If it is money that is the issue, today’s modern newspaper should offer a paid subscriber site and a non-paid subscriber site. The former would be all of the content in the full-on paper as you’d read if it literally was in your hands, with the latter being a scaled-down version with just the basics. The incentive to jump up into the paid site would be access to feature stories, writer blogs and other exclusive content that you could only get via the printed version. Both online versions would have ads, but smartly-placed and not just emblazoned haphazardly where there’s space. I feel that it’s inevitable that all newspapers will focus their efforts to strictly online, so why not be ahead of the curve and be a leader instead of behind the curve and a follower?
And of course, the papers would deploy rich, tease-filled emails, drawing their readers to the site to download the latest story for their perusal. The idea of a story’s lead (the first two paragraphs) is to draw the reader in (aka take a course of action). If there’s a better use of the power of email, I’m not sure what it is. Someone is going to get this right and it will change the way online media is viewed forever.
Sitting here today, I think of the newspaper industry’s potential interactive future as a big field of green grass, overseen by a bright, blue sky. I can only hope that someone decides to hop the fence around that field, run around and play a bit.